Civil Rights Groups Challenge Obama’s Assassination List

Civil liberties groups have long objected that President Barack Obama has continued and even expanded on many of George Bush’s abuses in the area of national security, including blocking any investigation into the torture program. Now, civil liberties groups are targeting Obama’s continued use of an assassination list and his assertion that he can simply kill a U.S. citizen without any criminal charge or trial.

The lawsuit focuses on the reported kill order targeting U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi, who is reportedly hiding in Yemen. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights have filed this interesting action, naming the President of the United States, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency and the secretary of the Department of Defense.

This could make for a very interesting case if the groups can establish standing, which is likely to be challenged by Attorney General Eric Holder. As usual, Congress has done little to explore the constitutionality of a president who claims the unilateral power to kill U.S. citizens upon sight.

If a President can unilaterally kill a U.S. citizens on his own authority, our court system (and indeed our constitutional rights) become entirely discretionary. The position of the Administration contains no substantial limitations on such authority other than its own promise to make such decisions with care.

Here is the complaint: Al-Aulaqi v. Obama Complaint

Source: Washington Post

48 thoughts on “Civil Rights Groups Challenge Obama’s Assassination List

  1. From The Nation
    Rep. Dennis Kucinich Seeks to Ban Assassinations of US Citizens
    Jeremy Scahill
    August 5, 2010
    http://www.thenation.com/blog/153899/rep-dennis-kucinich-seeks-ban-assassinations-us-citizens

    Excerpt:
    Lawyers for US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, who has reportedly been targeted for assassination by the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command, had to fight the US government to have the right to represent him. On Wednesday, following a lawsuit by the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Treasury Department issued a license to the pro-bono lawyers. Now the battle for due process begins. In a statement, al-Awlaki’s new lawyers said the license would “allow us to pursue our litigation relating to the government’s asserted authority to engage in targeted killings of American civilians without due process.”

    Al-Awlaki, is originally from New Mexico and now lives in Yemen. He has been accused of providing inspiration for Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the alleged “underwear bomber,” and Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the alleged Fort Hood shooter.

    Most lawmakers have been mute about the Obama administration’s policy to target a US citizen for assassination. Representative Jane Harman, who serves on the Homeland Security Committee, said recently that Awlaki is “probably the person, the terrorist, who would be terrorist No. 1 in terms of threat against us.” One of the few who has spoken against the policy is Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich. “The assassination policies vitiate the presumption of innocence and the government then becomes the investigator, policeman, prosecutor, judge, jury, executioner all in one,” Kucinich told me in April. “That raises the greatest questions with respect to our constitution and our democratic way of life.” He called the policy “extrajudicial.”

    Kucinich is putting his money where his mouth is. He just announced he has introduced legislation to “prohibit the extrajudicial killing of United States citizens.” The bill states that “No one, including the President, may instruct a person acting within the scope of employment with the United States Government or an agent acting on behalf of the United States Government to engage in, or conspire to engage in, the extrajudicial killing of a United States citizen.” It adds: “the authority granted to the President in the Authorization for Use of Military Force…following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, is not limitless.”

    **********
    Kucinich Bill will Stop the Extrajudicial Killing of Americans
    Washington, Aug 5 –
    http://kucinich.house.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=202191

    Excerpt:
    Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) today announced that he has introduced H.R. 6010, which prohibits targeted killings of U.S. citizens. The announcement comes on the heels of a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights challenging the government’s legal authority to prohibit pro-bono lawyers from representing U.S. citizens on lists for targeted assassination without due process.

    “The U.S. Constitution cannot be amended for convenience. The constitutional rights of all U.S. citizens must be protected. The U.S. government cannot act as judge, jury, and executioner. It was unacceptable when detainees at Guantanamo were held without due process, especially since many were later exonerated. It is unimaginable that the U.S. would then replace detainment with outright killing,” said Kucinich.

    It has been reported that the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) maintain lists of individuals they can target for execution simply for being suspected of involvement in terrorism, in subversion of their most basic constitutional rights and due process of law. These individuals can be targeted for killing at anytime, despite being far from any battlefield, wherever they may be.

    “This bill will protect American’s constitutional right to face their accusers in court,” added Kucinich.

  2. I see this issue as one of reviewability versus war power.

    On one hand, it is expected that in a war, the president and the armed forces can kill members of the other side without putting them on trial first. One would think that in at least some circumstances, an American who joined the other side would similarly be subject to be killed without due process. I.e., if we comb the beaches of Normandy, 1944, and find a dead American in Wehrmacht uniform, we have not necessarily violated his constitutional rights.

    On the other hand, it’s dangerously crazy to allow the President unilateral, unreviewable power to decide which Americans have joined the other side and which have not. And when, as in this case, the President has announced in advance that he considers a specific American citizen on the enemy side, he had better be able to prove it, and all the burden should be on him. Otherwise, it’s an open invitation to El Salvador-type death squads in America, and around the world for that matter.

  3. That’s why Kucinich should be President.

    He understands the limitations of the office as set forth in the Constitution.

  4. I know its hard on all of us but I dont understand how a constitutional lawyer sleeps at nite …Between Bush (a nitwit) and Obama (supposedly a constitutional lawyer) they have turned this countrys beliefs in the Constitution upside down

  5. The first moron to utter the oft repeated “Now this changes everything” after 9/11 and those fools that then parroted that sublimely ignorant statement have brought us to this pass, where constitutional guarantees become subservient to dubious national interest. There is no one that can be trusted with powers such as these to determine who can unilaterally be murdered in the false conception of nation security. Too many of our leaders have bought into this nonsense and our freedoms continue to erode with these feeble justifications and the sufferance of leaders who forget the human propensity for either making mistakes or plotting evil against imagined enemies.

  6. I agree with Daniel Baker’s analogy to the creation of death squads. The Congress, ever anxious to avoid responsibility for tough decisions, has largely ceded to the executive branch, both legislatively and by default, complete authority on matters of war as though it were simply another aspect of conducting foreign policy. At the same time, Congress has virtually abandoned any pretense of legislative oversight. As Mike S. observes, the “now this changes everything” reaction to 9/11 has led to an out-of-control executive.

    In essence, we have determined on the basis of purely irrational fear that the constitutional protections afforded all citizens may be honored or ignored at the discretion of the President, an idea that I thought had been forever repudiated by the signing of the Magna Charta. The reference to the previous President as “King George” is not mere sarcasm; it is an acknowledgment of an unfortunate truth. That President Obama is unwilling to surrender his royal prerogatives should come as no surprise because a contrary position would contradict what we know about human nature.

    It is deeply troubling that Rep. Kucinich is virtually the only person in Congress willing to push back on these issues. The Tea Party can brandish its “Don’t Tread on Me” flags like swords and scream about socialized medicine until hell freezes over, but its members haven’t a clue about the real threats to freedom in this country.

  7. “The Tea Party can brandish its ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flags like swords and scream about socialized medicine until hell freezes over, but its members haven’t a clue about the real threats to freedom in this country.”

    Amen, Brother Mike. The stone cold truth.

  8. I was thinkin’ now that we are no longer at war in Iraq, maybe there would be a challenge to the expanded executive powers….but then I remembered Afghanistan…..

    …….and then that damn litebulb went off………

    and oh yeah boy howdy….I think Kucinich would be a definite threat and that is one threat I would welcome!

  9. This issue is one that I am surprised has not caused a bigger row. Maybe the sheeple have been desensitized to the loss of our civil rights. Prof. Turley is exactly correct when he says if they can decide who they can kill without even a judge or jury involved, then none of us are safe. Kudos to the ACLU for taking another principled stand to protect us all.

  10. I thought our President told us last night to just turn the page on Iraq, forget about the whole Iraq mess, the “enhanced interrogation”, Abu-Ghraib, the lying that led up to the war, the “torture memos”. It’s over, he says.

    No, it isn’t. Good for the civil rights groups. I only wish Obama had the backbone to deliver the “Change” he promised in this particular area. Now he’s following the Bush handbook in Afghanistan and more.

  11. To further expound on the danger this poses consider this:

    A US Senator opposes some current war and defense policies. In his opposition he creates a nationwide furor against those policies. These policies are deemed absolutely necessary by the military and by the “wise old men” who arrogate to themselves the “maturity” to set the foreign policy/military course for the rest of us. The senator in question presents a persuasive alternative view to the “wise men’s” pronouncements and gains enough of a following to threaten to undermine them.

    Thus the senator is perceived as a national security risk for his/her positions. Is it a leap to imagine having the senator eliminated under powers such as these? I think not and I know this has been historically true from the birth of civilization. Do we really know what happened to JFK,RFK, MLK, Malcom X,or even Russ Feingold perchance? I have no knowledge as to the truth of this and unfortunately conspiracy theorists are either paranoid, or maligned, as the case may be. I do know historically
    these solutions have been common in all civilizations and countries.

    If the power of life and death is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals, despite the putative nobility of their motives, this power will become a destructive force of self-justified and tautological whimsy.

  12. Mike S.,

    I would like to expand your scenario with a possibility that has been bothering me. An old friend, a former DEA agent, told me of a situation faced by members of his team on a regular basis. He called it the Gladiator Syndrome. During down times between investigations if things were particularly slow the agents, for lack of anything better to do, would start to turn on one another in what my friend called the Gladiator mode. He said it was a “normal” occurrence given the focus and training of the agents and was behavior against which they must guard.

    Take that “normal” occurrence and transplant it to the government as a whole as it is now constituted in the terrorism fight and I believe that the citizenry should be particularly focused on giving its government less, rather than more, powers.

  13. Mike S. and Blouise,

    But Obama promises he won’t abuse the power! :)

    Eh hem, I trust both of you know me well enough to read that with just as much sarcasm as you can muster.

    Because this is the same guy who promised to restore the rule of law and yet habeas corpus is suspended and Cheney walks about a free man instead of wearing prison orange.

    Our next President, no matter the party, should just go ahead and declare himself Caesar and get rid of the pretense they’ll give up the practice of ever illegally expanding executive power.

  14. Buddha,

    Caesarism is the next logical step. those who fail to learn from history are bound to … you know the rest.

    We received the vital warning from Eisenhower after the war machine from WWII was not dismantled … 50 years later our failure to heed his warning has led to this current state of affairs. There can be little doubt that the trend will continue and each new administration will feel duty bound to take us just that much further.

    Washington, the one man who could have been declared Caesar overnight, must be spinning in his grave.

  15. rape
    1    /reɪp/ Show Spelled [reyp] Show IPA noun, verb, raped, rap·ing.
    –noun
    1.
    the unlawful compelling of a woman through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse.
    2.
    any act of sexual intercourse that is forced upon a person.
    3.
    statutory rape.
    4.
    an act of plunder, violent seizure, or abuse; despoliation; violation: the rape of the countryside.
    5.
    Archaic . the act of seizing and carrying off by force.
    –verb (used with object)
    6.
    to force to have sexual intercourse.
    7.
    to plunder (a place); despoil.
    8.
    to seize, take, or carry off by force.
    –verb (used without object)
    9.
    to commit rape.
    dictionary.reference.com
    _______________________________________
    When part of a widespread and systematic practice, rape and sexual slavery are recognized as crimes against humanity and war crimes. Rape is also recognized as an element of the crime of genocide when committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a targeted ethnic group.~Wikipedia
    —————————————-

  16. If it is OK preemptive assassination is OK for suspected terrorists, why is it not OK for other suspected evil doers such as suspected drug traffickers and suspected sex criminals? Getting rid of all that silly right to a trial nonsense would be so much more efficient and cheaper as well.

    Thailand successfully used extrajudicial killings of drug users and traffickers during the Thanksin Shinawat regime. If it is good for Thailand surely it would be good for the USA.

  17. This is another thing I would have been really upset about had Bush done it, but now that it’s Obama, I’m totally fine with it all. He’s a really great guy. He even ended the war in Iraq and everything! And I thought he couldn’t do anything because of those mean old Republicans standing in his way. Funny how he can “end” wars and kill civilians, but can’t pass national health care or stop the wars in Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, etc.

    Is anything wrong with this picture? No, of course not, Obama is a great guy, just like I said. DO NOT QUESTION, BELIEVE!

  18. Hi, Jill. I detect a slight note of bitterness in your post. You may recall that I have suggested in the past that Pres. Obama might wind up as a one-term president due to his backtracking since taking office. I still believe that to be the case. I am expecting capitulation before long on extension of the Bush tax cuts. By next year there will be pressure to increase our military presence in Iraq because the current government-in-constant-formation will be in a state of collapse and the President will not want to be labeled as the man who “lost” Iraq. And withdrawal deadlines in Afghanistan will not be met due to the “situation on the ground.”

  19. Mike I think your are right. Obama very well could be will be a one termer unless when the republicans take over next January, the measures they put in place are so so draconian that Obama does not look so bad versus Palin or Huckabee. The white protestant population in this country seems to have taken a drastic turn to the right.

  20. Swarthmore mom,
    Should Republicans regain control of the House, I expect they will regard that as vindication of obstructionism as an acceptable policy. Should Democrats thereupon adopt the same strategy, they will be accused of failing to work in a bi-partisan fashion on the nation’s ills. What remains of the President’s domestic legislative agenda will likely crash and burn. He could well be left to govern solely through frequent use of a veto pen, provided he has the guts to use it.

  21. “provided he has the guts to use it.”

    Mike, that’s a proviso that I think history has already shown the answer to and that answer is that Mr. “I’ll restore the rule of law” is completely and utterly gutless . . . unless BP or the GOP tell him it’s okay.

  22. lol

    It’s a painful affliction, Mike. But it does make me get out of bed in the morning too. I live in a state of perpetual hope and disappointment in my fellow beings.

  23. I think just getting benefit checks out will become a challenge with Boehner’s promise of a government shut down. Unemployment will remain high but the republicans will take away the safety net when they can. Some think this will help Obama in 2012 when turnout among groups that support him will be high.

  24. Mike Appleton: I think your analysis on Iraq and Afghanistan is exactly right. The Pentagon Generals are already waffling out loud on the timetable. It occured to me several weeks ago that Obama might give Gen. David Petraeus a fifth star to reward him for pulling the President out of a tight spot by accepting a lesser job (Gen. McCristal’s job as commander in Afghanistan) and to give Obama some “street cred” with the Pentagon. This will ,of course, be done before the 2012 election. I understand the current Atlantic magazine has an article with the same prediction. I also see the possibility after the 2012 election of Obama signing a new Draft Act. We no longer have the ground forces available for an adventure in Iran, or to be sent to Korea if our stupid maneuvers off the coast of North Korea goad it’s madman into crossing the 38th parallel with all of it’s resulting carnage. We can’t do another ground war because of the large number of Soldiers and Marines with PTSD. I heard a figure yesterday of 500,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans under treatment with the VA for this problem. I find that hard to believe, but we are headed in that direction. The cost to these men and women is already great. The dollar cost of treatment will be staggering to the budget writers for the next 50 or 60 years. Still, I don’t think this will cause the War Industry C.E.O.’s and their loyal servants in the Pentagon and the Congress to put an end to what Buddha calls the “perpetual war”.

  25. Henman There won’t be a draft. Congress won’t vote for it. People under 30 would turn out en masse to vote. This country will change when those under 35 or under 30 take power. Their outlook is so much different than the old white teabaggers. They voted for Obama in 2008,but I don’t think they are coming out in the midterms.

  26. I pretty well quit politics in exhaustion after the 2008 campaign and haven’t kept up as well as I should. But I have not heard of any more officially sanctioned torture or extraordinary renditions since Obama became president. Am I out of the loop here?

    I know Obama has stuck to Bush’s line on habeas corpus, dragged his feet on closing Guantanamo, and hasn’t prosecuted Cheney, Rumsfeld, or others who’ve probably committed indictable offenses. My interpretation was that he chose to fight the health care battle first (and he won that, no matter how much you might have liked a different program better), and that he planned to wade through the mud storm necessary to restore habeas and other basic constitutional protections later. I take it the majority view is that I’m hopelessly naive on this?

  27. Swarthmore mom: I hope you are right about the 30 year olds having a different outlook than my burned out generation-we were full of hope in our twenties and watched the “American Dream” fizzle out year by year with stagnant wages, destroyed labor unions, frozen pensions, and then no pensions at all for the generation behind us. I get angry every time I hear the obsolete term “layoffs”. Layoffs used to mean you were called back to work when conditions improved. Today you are fired and never called back. They dump your job onto some “lucky” person who hasn’t been fired yet. When conditions improve, the companies hire new workers who are desparate for a job and will work for lower wages. The fired workers won’t be called back to work at lower wages because they will have a “bad attitude” and be a “subversive element”. If this sounds like Karl Marx, it’s because he saw this happening in his time. Now it’s being repeated in our time. What did he call it- the “surplus army of the unemployed”? As to the draft, the Republicans in Congress will vote for it unanimously, as long as the draftees are Black, Hispanic, and poor Whites. And as long as there are loopholes so that their sons don’t have to go. I don’t think we have seen the last of the draft. The famous Military-Industrial Complex needs it, and what they need, they usually get. They have the money and they have the Congress.

  28. “Our next President, no matter the party, should just go ahead and declare himself Caesar and get rid of the pretense they’ll give up the practice of ever illegally expanding executive power.”

    Buddha,
    I believe it is coming and soon to your nearest Executive Mansion. Wait a bit and they will pass “sumptuary laws” again just so we of the populace don’t get uppity.

  29. HenMan
    1, September 3, 2010 at 1:29 am
    Swarthmore mom: I hope you are right about the 30 year olds having a different outlook than my burned out generation-we were full of hope in our twenties and watched the “American Dream” fizzle out year by year with stagnant wages, destroyed labor unions, frozen pensions, and then no pensions at all for the generation behind us. I get angry every time I hear the obsolete term “layoffs”. …

    I don’t think we have seen the last of the draft. The famous Military-Industrial Complex needs it, and what they need, they usually get. They have the money and they have the Congress.

    ==========================================================

    Truer words were never spoken!

  30. Nasser Al-Aulaqi the father of Anwar al-Aulaqi would better serve his son to convince him (Anwar al-Aulaqi) to turn his self in, if he is not a traitor and killer of innocent people.

    If the proof the US states they have about Anwar al-Aulaqi involvment in criminal acts against the State weights against him then surely Anwar al-Aulaqi, could plea bargain for a dumb dumb bulet to the head in exchange for the terroris intell he more than likely knows.

    Because US intell is obviously taken from the late show and surely US intell people would welcome news from the early show.

  31. Daniel R.

    My interpretation was that he chose to fight the health care battle first (and he won that, no matter how much you might have liked a different program better), and that he planned to wade through the mud storm necessary to restore habeas and other basic constitutional protections later. I take it the majority view is that I’m hopelessly naive on this?

    —————————————————-

    Got that right! You and I are the only two babes in the woods, here. Everyone else has information they have yet to share with us, though I’ve repeatedly asked Jill to give me reliable sources.

    I like the term mud storm, though I think it will be more of a tornado – and not mud but something much more odiferous. Why Mr. Obama didn’t jump right in on day one is still a mystery.

  32. http://www.truth-out.org/after-valerie-plame-obama-makes-fair-game-todays-whistleblowers64791

    From the article on whistleblowers:

    As Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project (GAP) told Truthout about the Bush approach compared to now:

    “It’s the same or worse: the politics of personal destruction, vengefulness, is still there. Obama [i.e., the administration] has indicted four people for leaking, more than the last three administrations [George Bush’s and Clinton’s terms] combined. ‘No Drama’ Obama is driven to distraction by leaks, he seethes and is tormented by it.” As she pointed out in a blog post recently: “The reality is, Obama – not Bush – has criminalized whistleblowing.”

    At the same time, the administration ostensibly supports reforms that aim to tighten the near toothless safeguards for whistleblowers – including those involved in the intelligence community, who have virtually no protection for exposing wrongdoing – that are now stalled in the Senate.

    end of excerpt

    And to repeat it: “…including those involved in the intelligence community, who have virtually no protection for exposing wrongdoing.”

    Pretty much anything goes these days… I’ve always believed that telling the truth and exposure of “wrongdoing” were good things. What’s happened? What did I miss along the way?

  33. I think thagt this situation is readily distinguishable from a case or ordinary domestic murder. Mr. al-Awlaki is in a territory in the wilds of Yemen from any unwanted contact with Yemeni or American police or military. He has repeatedly issues radio and Internet broadcasts, calling for the murder of American citizens. (Of course, someone else could hypothetically be impersonating him, b ut if that were true, wouldn’t he long since have spoken up, denying his association with these statements?)

    You seem to say that because we cannot apprehend him and try him in an American court of law, we can do nothing to stop him from these terrible actions are are causing extensive bloodshed. If there was some way of arresting him and bringing him to justice, that would be another matter. Since there isn’t, it sewems to me that the American government is entitled to act in self-defense, based on the best informattion available.

    One other thing. I am usually liberal in my leanings, a strong supporter of freedom of speech and of liberal interpretations of such decision as MIRANDA. By taking such an exteme position, you are making all liberals look like fools, and undermining our credibility on worthwhile issues.

    Thank you.

  34. (This comment is a little late, but this blog post still has a decent index on Google, so it is worth my time.)

    The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States due process clause states: “No person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law… ” That means unless the individual in question can lawfully be considered an enemy combatant pursuant to the laws of war, which in my opinion as a soldier, Anwar al-Aulaqi is NOT (He verbally advocates terrorism, but does not actually engage U.S. targets), then the person MUST be arrested, charged and tried for any alleged crimes. PERIOD.

    Do not get me wrong; I hate the man and everything he stands for, but the rule of law must prevail. In the Armed Forces, our Oath allows us only to obey LAWFUL orders and allegiance to the Constitution comes before allegiance to authority. We have a sworn duty to refuse to obey illegal or unconstitutional orders.

    That brings me to this issue: Barack Hussein Obama, by enacting this policy of extrajudicial killings on U.S. citizens who are not legally enemy combatants is violating his Oath of Office, therefore he is guilty of perjury and committing murder. This issue alone should have him impeached and prosecuted. However, our citizenry at large tends to be uncritical in their thinking, apathetic, and/or cowardly. If this was not true, then there would be hundreds of millions of my countrymen working to get this totalitarian president out of office and the political pressure would FORCE congress to act.

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